Roque, Lorenzana contradict each other on China’s promise on man-made islands

Pia Ranada
Roque, Lorenzana contradict each other on China’s promise on man-made islands
President Duterte's spokesman and his defense chief are not on the same page when it comes to China's promise: Is it a promise just to stop new reclamation in the South China Sea, or also to refrain from militarization of its man-made islands?

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gave conflicting versions of what China promised the Philippines regarding its activities in the South China Sea.

This comes after Chinese state-run television aired a feature showing disputed Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) has been transformed into an airbase with military installations and a 3,125-meter runway, according to PhilStar.

Kagitingan Reef is a group of 3 reefs in the Spratlys that China has turned into an island through reclamation.

It is being claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Roque said on Tuesday, January 9, during a Malacañang press briefing that China vowed only that it would not pursue new reclamation activities within the area in the South China Sea being claimed by the Philippines.

Thus, any military build-up in already existing man-made islands would not be a breach of “good faith.”

But a day before, Lorenzana said China had also promised not to militarize any of its man-made islands. The defense chief even said, if new military build-up by China in Kagitingan Reef is proven, the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest against the Asian giant.

Roque, as attested by Malacañang’s official transcript, said: “All I’m saying is that there is still no breach of the good faith obligation for as long as China has not embarked on new reclamations.”

“When we invoke the good faith of China, it is against making further reclamations and not making further works on islands that it had already reclaimed,” he also said.

This differs from Lorenzana’s remarks on Monday in which he said China’s promise included not militarizing existing reclaimed islands.

“I know for a fact that the Chinese government said sometime ago that they are not going to militarize those reclaimed islands,” said Lorenzana.

If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and weapons, then it will be a violation of what they said,” Lorenzana added.

China supposedly explained previously that they were developing the island for “peaceful purposes” like tourism, said the defense chief.

‘Not okay’

Despite the contradiction, Roque agreed with Lorenzana’s proposal for the government to file a protest against China.

“That’s the proper remedy ‘no. But that’s something that the Department of Foreign Affairs will have to address,” he said.

But given his understanding of China’s promise, is it okay for Beijing to ramp up militarization of Kagitingan Reef and other man-made islands being claimed by the Philippines?

“Certainly not okay because, of course, it constitutes a further threat to peace and security in the area,” said Roque.

The spokesman is yet to respond to Rappler’s request for clarification on his statement contradicting that of Lorenzana. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.